The Government is planning to ‘release doctors’ from other duties in order to care for coronavirus (Covid-19) patients hooked up to ventilators.
The Government has asked car makers, military manufacturers and specialist engineering firms to switch production to producing ventilators to care for the millions of people expected to catch the disease in the UK.
Asked on last night’s Andrew Marr show (BBC1) how the NHS would have the staff to operate the new machinery, Mr Hancock said it would be by bringing back retired doctors as well as asking doctors to temporarily switch specialty and being retrained to operate ventilators.
He said: ‘I was going to explain how, because of course, of course there are, we’ve got the number of doctors that we have.
‘We want to bring people who are recently retired back into service and for instance release doctors from some other duties and get them back into the health service, but also the clinical need that people have when they’re suffering from coronavirus are very specific.
‘It’s about ventilation, because it’s a respiratory disease. So we will be stopping some other activity and asking doctors who normally do other things to retrain, to be able to, for instance, use the ventilator.’
Health Education England has already said it could relocate trainee GPs to hospitals to care for coronavirus patients.
The health secretary further confirmed that some elective surgery would be cancelled as part of the measures, with operating theatres turned into coronavirus wards.
The Government is also in talks with hotel chains, which are seeing vast cancellations due to the virus outbreak, about turning over empty rooms to the NHS.
Mr Hancock said: ‘There’s hotels around the country, many of which are currently empty and we’ve got hospital buildings.
‘So for instance, one of the first things that we’re going to do is turn operating theatres that normally would be doing the sorts of operations that in this emergency can be delayed, like knee ops or hip ops, they have oxygen supplied in them because they’re operating theatres and they can be turned into wards.
‘So that’s one of the examples of the ways that we can change the NHS because the specific needs of this disease are now clear.’
The news comes as 35 people have now died from Covid-19 in the UK, all of whom had underlying health conditions and were over 60 years of age.
The health secretary confirmed that the Government’s emergency measures include plans to ask people over 70 to stay at home to shield themselves, but signalled it was too early to make the ‘big ask’ at this stage.
The Government is expected to pass emergency legislation this week which will enable it to assert control measures, such as for example forcibly quarantining patients who carry the virus.